Donald Trump has joined millions of Americans casting an early vote ahead of the November election, promising that “you won’t hear about COVID anymore” if he wins.
More than 54 million Americans have rushed to vote, setting a record-breaking pace that could lead to the highest turnout in more than a century, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
Mr Trump voted in-person in Florida, a key battleground state he must win and to which he switched his permanent residence and voter registration last year (from New York).
“I voted for a guy named Trump,” he told reporters after casting his ballot at a library in West Palm Beach, near his Mar-a-Lago estate, 10 days before the November 3 election.
The voting trend is a sign of the intense interest in the contest between Trump and Biden, as well as concerns about avoiding crowded polling places on Election Day because of COVID.
America hit a new virus record on Friday (local time), with 84,000 daily cases and major spikes in battleground states including Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The US has the most cases in the world at 8.5 million and the most fatalities with 224,000 lives lost.
But Mr Trump again played down the pandemic as he hit the campaign trail with a rally at The Villages retirement community in Florida, after days earlier claiming COVID was “going away”.
“The Democrats talk about COVID, COVID, COVID,” he told placard-waving supporters in red.
“On November 4, when we win, you won’t hear about COVID any more.”
The Fake News is talking about CASES, CASES, CASES. This includes many low risk people. Media is doing everything possible to create fear prior to November 3rd. The Cases are up because TESTING is way up, by far the most, and best, in the world. Mortality rate is DOWN 85% plus!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2020
Democratic rival Joe Biden and his wife Jill also hit the campaign trail on Saturday, travelling to the battleground of Pennsylvania for two events.
In a speech in Delaware, Mr Biden said: “COVID-19 dwarfs anything we’ve faced in recent history, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The virus is surging in almost every state. We have passed 8.4 million cases.”
Former President Barack Obama will campaign in Florida, making his second appearance on behalf of his former vice president after a stop in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
Many states have expanded in-person early voting and mail-in ballots as a safer way to vote during the pandemic.
Mr Trump has regularly condemned mail-in voting as prone to fraud, and again urged citizens to vote in person, even though experts say it is as safe as any other method.
COVID death toll warning
Researchers have calculated the US death toll from COVID-19 could surpass 500,000 by February unless nearly all Americans wear face masks.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation warning reflects fears that cold winter weather will drive Americans indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.
“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge,” said IHME director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.
But deaths could drop by 130,000 if 95 per cent of Americans would cover their faces, the IHME said, echoing a recommendation by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The number of COVID-19 patients in US hospitals has climbed to a two-month high. There are now more than 41,000 hospitalised patients with coronavirus across the country, up 34 per cent from October 1, according to the Reuters analysis.
North Dakota, with 887 new cases on both Thursday and Friday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin.